More accurately, the mystery dinner theater. Being homeschoolers (Woot!), my bookclub/lit class is going to have to organize our own senior trip fundraisers. And guess who gets to write the plot for this particular one?
Yes, I offered to do it. Hey, it’ll be awesome! I love writing! And mysteries! And comedy! So writing a comedic mystery that people will pay for is no biggie! May I just say that I have gained a lot of respect for the people who do this all the time for professional mystery dinner theaters. Trying to weave together a seamless mystery full of hilarious red-herring characters that will both keep the audience laughing as well as make them wonder whodunnit is ridiculously hard. Lucky for me I don’t have to write all the comedy bits (The club will do that as a group.). I’m still not completely done with it, but I have most of the basics done. This is what I’ve learned in the process…
(As you can see, I was getting a tad distracted. But I still had “mysterious evil” on the brain, apparently. As evidenced by the creepy dude with the hat.)
As far as advice for writing one of these terrors goes…Start with setting. Once you have an interesting setting–haunted mansion, theater on opening night, baseball game, whatever–suspects start blooming naturally. For our particular plot, I hit upon using a theater similar to the Muny since most of our actors(e.g. my best friends) are thespians to the core and tend to spontaneously burst into song anyway. And with that as a start, I went through a list of personnel who would typically be in such a theater to hang around and kill people. Director, make-up artist, wardrobe person, usher, backdrop artist…you get the point.
Secondly, make your heroes quirky. Since your detectives are going to be the ones working both the crowd and the suspects, they’re going to be the ones talking the most. Therefore, you’ve got to give them an interesting point of view to start from. One of the several detectives we may or may not use (depending on whether the club okays it when we meet to brainstorm next week) is a teen detective who is all-grown up and in danger of losing her job. All those concussions that the typical teen sleuth gets have added up and she’s not as sharp as she once was. Can the audience help her out by helping solve the mystery?
Thirdly, narrow your suspects naturally. At the beginning of the show, make sure that it seems anyone could have done it. Make sure everyone has a solid motive and a suspicious demeanor. Then slowly begin narrowing it down. Perhaps there are alibis for a couple suspects. Maybe the clues at the crime scene eliminate someone. Bring it in to a group of two or three, then deliver the final clue. But make sure it isn’t too easy. The audience should think they have the killer cold, but should still have a smidgen of doubt.
And that is really all the pointers I have to share, outside of make sure the food’s good, too. Even if the mystery is a total fail, having good food helps. Anyways, good luck with your projects! Wish me luck with mine… 😉